Five Key Considerations for Open Enrollment

COVID-19 has affected everything we do, requiring our continual adaptation to a new, and still evolving, reality. For employers, it has meant a stronger focus on health and safety, economic uncertainty, remote working, and digital communication tools. Each day brings a unique set of challenges, driving employers and their employees to think differently about what comes next.

Many employers have been rethinking health plan designs and benefits programs to include digital health tools and virtual care; better access to mental health care; and a range of voluntary benefits as people’s circumstances and needs have changed rapidly. Employees are concerned about the future and, because of that, they are paying closer attention to their benefits than ever before. This provides employers with an important opportunity to re-imagine the employee experience – and meet employees’ needs with empathy and understanding, as well as the needs of the business.

In the midst of a public health crisis and great economic uncertainty, many employees will approach open enrollment with a different focus this year. They’ll be thinking about how much and what type of coverage they need, and how much they can afford to pay for it at this time. And they’ll have new needs that may be addressed by benefits offerings they wouldn’t have considered in the past. Given all this, here are five key considerations to keep in mind as you prepare for the 2021 open enrollment season:

  1. Open enrollment will NOT be business as usual. Address employee concerns with compassion and empathy. Cost and affordability will be key drivers in their decision-making, so it’s important that they can easily find the information they need. Expect more active (versus passive) enrollment this year.
  2. Voluntary benefits will be more important than ever. Voluntary benefit solutions help employees mitigate financial risk, regardless of what’s happening in the world – even the unexpected. They can keep dollars in employees’ pockets through group discounts and offer health and financial protection by providing benefit dollars in the event of hospitalization or serious illness. Expect employees to be keenly interested in benefits that will assist with current and unforeseen financial pressures.
  3. Prepare for a lot of questions. Companies need to be prepared for an influx of questions. Start by asking whether HR, call centers, and managers are ready for the increase in questions due to the unique situations and issues employees are currently facing. HR and/or communications teams will need to ensure they have the bandwidth to handle open enrollment communications this year along with other competing priorities.
  4. Listening is essential. You could conduct formal employee pulse surveys or simply ask every employee you speak to between now and open enrollment what questions they have about their benefits. (Best part? Listening is free.) Do you know what is top of mind for your employees, managers, and leaders?
  5. Reaching employees may be a challenge. With more employees working remotely, meeting employees where they are takes on new meaning this open enrollment season. Consider new digital channels for real-time information such as apps, text messaging, video messages, virtual benefits fairs and websites to share information. Develop a strategy to engage your employees and plan to start communicating earlier and more often. Work on adjusting the timing, cadence, look and feel of communications to stand out and have impact.

Interested in learning more on how to adapt, plan, and communicate about open enrollment this year? Watch our webcast replay, “Open Enrollment: Not Business As Usual.”

Harry Cain
by Harry Cain

Sr. Principal, Voluntary Benefits Consulting Leader

Rhonda Newman
by Rhonda Newman

Senior Partner

Ann Treimer
by Ann Treimer

Employee Benefits and HR Consultant

Register for Mercer US Health News to receive weekly e-mail updates.